(On TV, March 2017) The first ten minutes of The Karate Kid—Part II do something very obnoxious and then very interesting. It starts with a TV-show-style recap of the previous episode (ugh), but then follows-up by delivering the epilogue that the first movie so clearly lacked. Then, in the next ten minutes, it draws up a fantasy of a quiet summer spent chilling and training … only for adventure to beckon. From that moment, it’s off to exotic Okinama (actually Hawaii, but the change of scenery is significant) for an adventure in foreign lands, flipping the agency of the story from the younger protagonist to the older one. As a “here’s what I did during my summer vacations” story, it’s pretty good despite odd missteps along the way: the ending is ridiculously overdone, with elements that wouldn’t pass muster even in a less demanding kid’s movie. (I was particularly disappointed by the whole “let’s lift a beam” shtick, and even less convinced by the subsequent “I will run away and threaten a girl” follow-up. Still, the charm than made The Karate Kid is mostly intact, and this sequel at least has the advantage of not redoing the first film’s plot verbatim. Much of the strengths of the film can be traced back to likable performances by Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, even though the latter’s character does lose a considerable amount of mystery as his history is detailed. Still, as a sequel, it’s decent enough—not quite as iconic at the first movie, but worthy of being watched by fans of the first film.
(Second viewing, On TV, March 2017) I remember seeing The Karate Kid as a kid, being entertained for most of it but mystified at some sequences such as the spaghetti-spill. Seeing the film in middle age makes for a different experience—the theme of surrogate fatherhood seems more obvious now, and the spaghetti spilling now makes perfect sense in a “when everything goes wrong…” sense. Surprisingly enough, my middle-age jadedness also leads to a better appreciation of the formula at the heart of the script. There is little that’s new or revolutionary about The Karate Kid (although the interracial component of the main relationship still remains almost unusual today), but it is exceptionally well-executed, with numerous telling details that help ground the film in reality … and still make for cultural references even thirty years later. Noriyuki “Pat” Morita is terrific as the older man taking our teenage protagonist under his care (the script even allowing him a few moments of ornery frustration), while Ralph Macchio is unpolished but likable in the lead role. The Karate Kid isn’t a perfect film—it ends far too soon without the luxury of a coda in which to enjoy its triumph, occasionally zigs and zags without control and often veers into overplayed on-the-nose moments. But it’s well-balanced, and strong enough in its assets to overcome its imperfections. No wonder it’s still relatively popular even today.